History? Why?

What we can learn about ourselves and our society from examining the past.

p(dropcap) When I took history in high school, it was taught as dates, kings, wars, and lives lost, which seemed boring. Now older, I understand why we need to know our history beyond dates and wars. We all have a personal and collective past which we need to understand so we can learn from it to create a better future.

Our FAMILY history informs our healthcare, social choices, and physical limitations. When I married, a photo was taken of me as a bride with my mother and grandmother. Now I see that we all have similar builds. When my sister and I later had 10 pound babies, our mother finally told us that “big babies run in our family.” We wish we had known what to expect. Doctors ask for a medical history, to learn if any of our relatives had certain diseases, like cancer. Our personal history is influenced by the era in which we grew up. TV, computers, and cell phones didn’t exist during my childhood. Families listened to news on the big radio.

Our COMMUNITY history is linked to the story of our houses. McCauley was one of the first neighbourhoods to be established in Edmonton, around 1910, and it is named after the first mayor. I researched the history of my 1910 house at the Edmonton Archives, and learned who lived here before me, and about the neighbourhood. There were photographs of narrow 110 Avenue, with a different name, and very few houses, but there was a McGavin’s Bakery at the end of the street. At least one of the bakers lived in my house. Recently, an Italian woman stopped by and said she had raised seven children in my little house. I wondered where they all slept, as my house is very small. It was built with no insulation, so maybe being close kept them warm. I am adding insulation.

In our PROVINCE’s history we learn about the immigrants who were recruited from Europe to homestead in Alberta 100 or so years ago. The women who immigrated to become brides wrote letters home, some of which you can read with amazing photos, in a book titled A Harvest Yet to Reap: A History of Prairie Women. The pioneers worked very hard to clear the land, build houses, and make good lives for their families. In school we learn how women fought for the right to own land and to vote, led by the Famous Five brave women of Alberta. We also need to learn more about all the various cultures that contributed to Alberta’s history, including our First Peoples.

This year, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of our COUNTRY Canada, we will hear more stories from the past. In WORLD history we learn what all the past wars were fought over: power, land, money, rights, or to overcome a dictator like Hitler. We also learn about technological developments like TV, computers, and cell phones, and how they have changed the way we communicate and entertain ourselves.

If we know and understand our past, it will help us overcome our collective mistakes. By acknowledging the past, we can help build a better and more peaceful future for all of us.

Joanne McNeal is a McCauley senior who is also an artist, musician, writer, and gardener.

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